Netflix Canada’s Bumpy Launch

From the day that Netflix launched their streaming video service here in Canada back in late September, the complaint has been the same, and now it’s getting louder. The selection of titles is too limited and not current enough, consumers say, and many have walked away after their free one-month trial.

Despite recent breathless announcements to the contrary, the Netflix selection in Canada is rather anemic compared to the offering south of the border. But what consumers don’t understand is the complicated process to bring titles to their screens. Licensing agreements must be signed between Netflix and rights holders in Canada, and often these rights holders are different companies than in the US. So it’s not a simple process to offer the same selection to customers across North America. If you’re a customer of eMusic or Apple’s iTunes Store, you already know this.

Despite Netflix’s efforts to communicate this to their customer base, the message seems not to be getting through. In a blog post dated December 13, Netflix VP of Content Acquisition Kelly Merryman announces new content updates for Canada, and in the comments that follow we hear the same litany of complaints about the absence of the latest movies and TV shows.

The service does have its defenders, though, and some rather strangely lay the blame at the government’s door: “Canadian laws are outdated and are making it difficult for Netflix to expand as much as in the US,” says one commenter. “I am not sure Netflix can fight the government on releasing name brand titles that most customers want,” says another. On an earlier similar blog post from October, another commenter opines, “Blame your government for the lack of titles in Canada. It’s not Netflix’s fault.” What exactly are these commenters referring to, I wonder?

I tried to reach someone at Netflix for comment, but I’m not sure they actually have a physical office in Canada, or anyone working for them who actually lives here. On their main corporate site, all their job postings are for the US only. In any case, I did not receive a reply.

Ironically, Canadian consumers’ wish for their offering to match that of the American audience may soon become reality, but not in the way that they think. According to a recent story, the original deals signed by Netflix with American content providers are due for renewal soon and the studios and distributors will be playing hardball. Many feel that Netflix got a bargain the first time around, and licensing fees could skyrocket, which means that some content deals will simply not be renewed.

Let’s hope that Netflix can attract enough customers in Canada to be able to afford to sign what might turn out to be expensive licensing deals, on both sides of the border.

What do you think? Have you tried Netflix yet?

P.S. For what it’s worth, I’m a fan. In fact, in the new year, I plan on introducing a regular feature highlighting the best that Netflix has to offer, whether that might be a British TV series, an American indie film, a European “arthouse” title or just some overlooked recent Hollywood fare. There are lots of great things available right now, and that’s only going to get better. The fact that I can watch on my television, laptop or even my iPhone is an added bonus.

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9 Responses to Netflix Canada’s Bumpy Launch

  1. Robert says:

    I’m not much of a fan. If I pay money for something, I want it physically. IF netflix had everything ever released it might be worth it but as it is, I don’t have enough time in my day to give more money to yet another company

  2. Justin says:

    I usually keep my eye on to keep updated

  3. Mad Hatter says:

    I think the bigger hurdle standing in Netflix’s path is companies like Bell, Rogers, and Zip wanting to protect their business models.

    There are some out there who still want physical dvd’s, so the omission of hard-copies-via-mail must be a slight deterrent for some. This is especially tough for those who don’t have a decent rental place around them (“Do you have UN PROPHETE?” “No, but we *do* have twenty-five copies of THE EXPENDABLES!”).

    Add to that the fact that both major internet providers also offer new releases on-demand, and you come up against a major case of them not wanting to be of any help.

    Bell & Rogers have been sending out “you’re using a lot of bandwidth” warnings, and you have to believe that they know such actions are due to streaming.

    Put it all together, and like you said in this post – Netflix has an uphill battle on its hands. Here’s hoping they don’t bail out before giving the whole thing a chance to play itself out.

  4. Bob Turnbull says:

    Loads of issues for sure…I’m still a reasonably happy customer at the moment though – the selection is miniscule compared to the U.S., but it still gives me yet another set of choices. The other night we sat down to watch a family movie and started by grabbing a couple of old Pink Panther cartoons off NetFlix as the opening shorts. Some great docs, several kewl Japanese monster movies and some solid old movies. Between that, zip, my great local stores (yes, I’m lucky) and the many I’ve bought (including non-region 1), I’ve got wide selection. I know others don’t – so this is just my viewpoint.

    Another good example of licensing issues is Pandora – the terrific music service that got locked down to only U.S. listeners a good 4 years ago or so. Canada (and other countries) had exhorbitant additional license charges and they still haven’t opened it up (for Canada at least – not sure if it has changed for some other countries).

    I just boosted my Rogers bandwidth (by double) to handle the new load (probably only a couple of streaming films a week at this stage). As Hatter said, Bell and Rogers are 1) looking to profit big time from bandwidth growth and 2) trying to figure out how work their own streaming services.

    I figure we’ll lose out somewhat in the end, but it’s where things seem to be headed. At a measely $8 a month, I’m taking advantage while I can. There’s enough to keep me interested for awhile (though they gradually lose movies as well as their licenses expire).

  5. Jay says:

    I have to agree with most of what Bob says here. The selection isn’t as good as Zip or Blockbuster but the price is right at $8/month.

    My 11-year-old son loves streaming movies to his PS3 and has found plenty to watch. I’ve doubled my bandwidth on my Bell account for another $5/month (90 GB limit now). I prefer the foreign film and doc section. I’ve reduced my Zip rentals from 3 to 2 films out at a time. On top of that I have the movie channels on Bell Expressvu and a pile of screeners from festivals that I’m still working through. Combine that with a SCENE card and 2 for 1 movie tickets (cashed in points) and I have more movies than I can possibly watch. There has never been so much choice.

  6. Yeah, overall I’m pretty happy but as I said, I got tired of reading all the negative comments. And the site Justin points to above is quite useful for letting me know not only what Netflix is adding but how often.

    I guess I’ll still need Blockbuster for those just released on DVD films I missed in theatres, but otherwise I’m happy to wait a bit. That’s the way I am with PS3 games, too, by the way. If you wait a while, the price is usually cut in half.

  7. Jenna says:

    Why are people still using the Big Companies for their ISP’s? Switch to Teksavvy (like I did) for unlimited internet usage and RELIABLE service. Plus, if you have an issue you will speak to a Canadian not someone in Mumbai. I can’t believe more people don’t switch. I was paying Bell $90 a month for unlimited internet (which they no longer have) and I pay HALF that with Teksavvy.

  8. Not sure if you’re aware, Jenna, but companies like TekSavvy buy their access from the big companies. In TekSavvy’s case, I think they buy bandwidth from Bell, and if Bell decides to change anything, you’ll be subject to the same bandwidth restrictions and higher costs as every other cable and DSL user in Canada. I’ve been hearing rumblings lately that things will indeed change for customers of smaller providers like TekSavvy.

  9. Linn says:

    now that I have read all the negativity about minimal choices available with NetFlix…I am rather glad now that I could not sign-up!…I chose method of payment…debit card…my RBC client card…I was told my card had to have a VISA or MASTERCARD logo and expiry date…the young man I spoke to at NetFlix checked with supervisors….they confirmed same info…type of debit card used here in Ontario not acceptable means of payment method…so unless Canadians choose to use their credit card they cannot open an account!!…too bad…would have liked to try free trial!! I don’t understand why….if trial is free to Canadians…we aren’t given a choice as to whether we want to open an account at all!!

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